Moana is a gem and probably one of the best Disney movies to be release in quite a while. It has a wonderful story, rich characters and beautiful music all coming together in quite the visual spectacle. It's such a solid cinematic experience all around.
And I do appreciate the direction that Disney seems to be headed for with movies like this. There's still the desire to celebrate the "Disney Princess" narrative in a way but they're also making sure to evolve the genre and make sure that they continue tell stories of empowerment and strength that can act as an inspiration for future generations.
Synopsis: Moana is a 2016 Disney animated movie directed by Ron Clements and John Musker and co-directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams. The screenplay was by Jared Bush and the movie features music by Lin-Manuel Miranda of In The Heights and Hamilton fame along with Opetaia Foa'i and Mark Mancina.
The movie starts with a story, or more precisely a legend, about how the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of the island goddess Te Fiti in order to gain her power of creation. However he attacked by the lava demon Te Kā, causing him to lose the stone that represented her heart along with his magical fish hook that allowed him to shapeshift into various animals. Since then the tendrils of darkness have continued to spread from that place, spreading destruction.
A thousand years later we meet young Moana (Auli'i Cravalho), daughter of Chief Tui Waialiki (Temuera Morrison). Their island community is a happy one however her father reinforces the old rule that no one should ever leave the reefs for their safety. And yet Moana continues to feel her self being drawn to the sea while her grandmother Tala (Rachel House) continues to nurture her independence as her parents encourage her to be content with life on the island. But when the darkness begins to reach their sanctuary, Granny Tala urges Moana to find Maui and force him to return the heart of Te Fiti given the Ocean has somehow chosen her for this task.
What I Liked: I want to say EVERYTHING, but that wouldn't be too helpful from a review perspective. But we can start with what an amazing character Moana is and how she's not just a girl rebelling against gender stereotypes but is really one looking for herself. It's more than a "princess" being a tomboy but more one finding her place in the world. We see her recognize her responsibilities to the people of their village and her desire to fulfill that role in her life. But we also feel for her as she knows he heart draws her to the ocean despite her father's fears. And how she comes to terms with different parts of her is what defines her narrative in such an amazing way.
And of course we have to talk about the music. Sure we all love Lin-Manuel Miranda but it's amazing how his contributions did not just shift this movie into Hamilton on the islands. Instead we had his quick wit and flair for musical storytelling married to more traditional musical styles of various Pacific Island people in a truly beautiful way.
And then we have a great story that is more than your classic Hero's Journey. Moana has a lot to face and not just all these demigods and other powerful beings. She has her doubts and her desire to define her fate but also make her parents happy and continue on the legacy of her people. For most of the movie she's accompanied by Maui, who also has some growing to do as he needs to find his own path forward and make up for his past mistakes.
And then you have all the small details that really made this movie pop. The visuals were breathtaking. The concepts behind various scenes were clearly inspired. Character motion was often wonderfully natural without going too uncanny valley. And the underwater scenes with their use of bioluminescence and UV-style coloring was just amazing. Super well done all around!
What Could Have Been Better: I'm trying to nitpick but I'm not sure where to go. Some of the jokes may have been a little flat but I didn't really care. I totally didn't realize it was Dwayne Johnson as Maui so I have nothing in that area as well.
This movie is just too beautiful.
I guess I wasn't a big fan of the chicken? But he worked too in a comedic sense. And Alan Tudyk? Really?
TL;DR: Moana is amazing! I don't care what you think about watching animated feature films in your adulthood, you should go see this movie. And I cried a few times not because Moana's life is totally relatable but more because of how well they managed to make us feel her struggle and appreciate her journey and those emotions just came through in a strong and powerful way. So it's no surprise that I think the movie deserves a full 5 moments of beauty and wonder out of a possible 5.